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A Dangerous Con: Phaedra’s Chocolate Shop

  Beryl found Ms. Byrne’s shop attended by a younger woman who offered her assistance, but the feline informed her she needed a special order.  That was all the assistant needed as she continued to watch the shop until the proprietess returned.  The feline took a glance out of the window but saw no sign of Trixy or the two street toughs following her.  She knew they would be nearby making sure she moved in promptly and with little difficulty.  Unless the cat tried to make any herself, no doubt.

  Her patience was rewarded as Phaedra Bryne entered the shop, dressed in an extravagant black dress too elegant for any simple chef, and smiled at her guest, “Ah, Beryl, has Jayne helped you yet? Where is that lazy girl?”

  Beryl felt something within Ms. Bryne that demanded a certain amount of respect from the familiar.  She curtsied quickly, “Hello Ms. Byrne. She offered, but I’m not certain she could have helped me.”

  Phaedra considered her words a moment, “No? Special order you require? I make small off-menu batches as requested.”

  “Yes, a rather special order might be required soon,”  She glanced out the window though she was certain they were alone. She looked back at Ms. Bryne who noticed her apprehension.

    “We can speak upstairs in the kitchen if you’re concerned about someone walking in?” Phaedra offered conversationally. “If you’re being followed, you may exit through the alley door, rarely anyone passing through who isn’t on delivery business.”

  “Thank you, Ms. Bryne, but that is unnecessary,”  Beryl assured her quietly.  “The people following me don’t mean me harm and I don’t want to lose them.  However, I would prefer them not knowing what I am planning.”

  “Yes?”  The raven haired woman lowered her voice as well. “Forgive me, Ms. Strifeclaw, but what is your business with me today?”

  “I seem to recall you made some rather infamous chocolates that were quite popular at Valentines.  I have a need for them.”

   Oh yes, those chocolates.  Phaedra smiled to herself at that. “Indeed, it‘s a simple enough recipe now I‘ve perfected it.”

  “Yes, I need them for…”  She paused as she considered whether she should share her plot with Ms. Bryne.  The cat had not intended to divulge her secrets when she came in, but if something could go awry?  Beryl needed to be candid. “I need them for a deception.”

 “How soon do you require the chocolates?”  Ms. Byrne lifted her little black book from the chatelain as she considered Beryl’s revelation carefully. “I feel I must warn you, they are extremely potent and could have…unintended consequences if overused.”

 “This Friday early morning.”  Nicholas had not set a date, but it was unlikely to occur any sooner.  

  The chocolate maker nodded and made a swift note with her pen, “For just one person?”

  Beryl nodded, “It’s intended for one person, but there might need to be more later.”

  “Will they be Male or Female?”  Phaedra asked trying to narrow it down somehow.

  “The ‘client’ should be a man knowing Mr. Nicholas.  But he has not chosen the subject yet for his ‘test’.”

  Talk of test subjects brought Ms. Bryne to a brief halt as she looked at Beryl.  She then moved behind the counter, pulling out her ledger and flipping through to check her inventory, running her finger down the page.   “This is nothing illegal I hope?”

  “Not illegal in this city.”  Beryl answered, but dancing around the issue with this woman was not helping either of them.  She felt Ms. Bryne deserved, perhaps even needed, to know how the chocolates would be used. There may be more warning ahead.  “I’m investigating a pimp at the insistence of a friend, but this means I need to pose as one of his girls.  He wants to test to see which of us his male regulars will prefer at the end of the evening between me and another girl.  For the sake of this investigation that will need to be me….just to get closer.”

  Ms. Bryne wrinkled her nose at the explanation, “I pity the women who work for men in that industry. Shall I have them delivered to you?”

 “Delivered to me directly, please.”  Beryl requested and the proprietress struck something out of her ledger and made a note in her little black book.

   “Expect them first thing Saturday morning, discretely wrapped.”  She said as she set her leger on the table and looked at Beryl with a measured gaze.  “This sounds like a very unfortunate business, Ms. Strifeclaw. You should fear for your reputation, I think.”

  “I am more afraid he will hear my reputation and know I am playing him false,”  Beryl responded honestly.  If she ever had a ‘good’ reputation she would have liked to know where she was during that time and how she missed it.   She had openly eaten rodents, and even her closest friends had been afraid she was completely unstable before, “The reason I’m inspecting him is because someone suspects he killed some of his girls and Bookworm can’t prove it.”

  “My goodness, Bookworm approves this little scheme?”  Phaedra seemed unhappy at this development, but the feline considered that this could be her usual demeanor.  “How…scandelous.”

  “She does.”  Beryl confided.  She had admitted the rest, there was no point in holding back now, “She’s gotten into the act of treating me with scorn and suspicion these days, while I have fun ‘flirting’ with her.  I keep almost laughing and ruining it all.”  

  Ms.Byrne chuckled as she visualized the cat flirting with the Hienrichs woman.  Still, she was undeterred, “In what way will your seducing him lead you to discover whether or not he is a murderer?”

  This was a fair question that someone should have asked her sooner.  “If nothing else I know that when I try to leave, as did the girl in the Wax Museum, that I will find out swiftly.”

  The chocolate maker did not like her response, and would not have liked the other answers she would have heard if she pressed harder.  She knew her final option was not one that would please any of her friends, but her deal with Myrtil had ruled out other approaches.  Ms. Bryne turned to the matter at hand, “You do realize the potency of the chocolates you have asked for, yes?  You may invite attempted murder whether or not it is in his nature.”

  “It’s a good thing I’m not giving them to the pimp himself, yes,”  Beryl replied.  They had known the chocolates were potent enough to avoid risking them with Mr. Nicholas.  But what about one of his regulars?  “Is there a way to counteract the chocolate after that evening?”

  The dark-haired woman leaned closely and whispered to Beryl with a tone that bordered on dire, “The chocolates are only effective for a few hours at a time, and they merely stir desire.  I cannot guarantee that the desire stirred will be toward you if you are not the only one in the room.  Nor can I promise that an already impassioned person won’t become violent in their passions.”

   “Thank you for the warning, Ms. Bryne,”  Those were important lessons to know, as no doubt they would be in a crowded room.  She would need to still work at making sure those passions were somewhat aimed at her when she used the chocolate.  “Honestly, I anticipated being struck before this is done.  The pimp has been known to beat his women, and I entered this arrangement knowing that full well.”

  Phaedra lifted her shoulders, shrugging off the responsibility of what happened to her. “It is your funds and your risk, I want you to understand that being struck is not the worst that could happen, Ms. Strifeclaw, and you are not a large woman.”  Beryl was surprised at her last comment.  She would have thought Phaedra would have seen beyond the dress.  The older woman pursed her lips together.  “I will deliver the bill along with the chocolates. Do I need impress upon you the importance of prompt payment?”

  Beryl shook her head, “I want to set the payment now.”  She had no intention of being in Ms. Byrne’s debt, even if she was unaware of her nature.  She would not count on that.

  “Very well,”  Ms. Byrne consulted her book closely, “Seventy-five Quatloos for three chocolates.”

  “Done!”  Beryl responded, quite relieved that the price was simply monetary.

  Ms. Byrne smirked at the feline’s eager response.  She considered the cat for a few moments, “Should the worst happen, Ms. Strifeclaw, I also offer…other services you may have need of. Do remember that.”  

  It took the feline some time to realize what the woman was hinting at while the proprietress  maintained a neutral face.  “I may well take you up on that offer.  Time will tell all things, Ms. Byrne.  Thank you for your assistance.”

  Ms. Byrne smiled as they completed their transaction, “Any time, Beryl. My door is always open.”

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